Carpentry Terms

These carpentry terms facilitate communication between carpenters, engineers, and architects during the design and construction of residential and commercial buildings.

Carpentry Terms

Air-Dried Lumber: Lumber dried to a moisture content of approximately 15 percent by unheated air.

Anchor Bolts: Bolts driven into concrete to secure structural members in place.

Arch: A curved structure that supports its weight and the load above it.

Apse: A semicircular or polygonal building projection, as of a church.

Area way: A recessed area below grade that allows light and ventilation into a basement window.

Asphalt Shingles: Composition roof shingles made from asphalt-impregnated felt covered with mineral granules.

Astragal: An interior molding between two doors or a window sash to prevent swinging through. It is also used with sliding doors to ensure tighter fitting where doors meet.

Atrium: An open court with a building.

Awning Window: An out-swinging window hinged at the top of the sash.

Backfill: Earth used to fill in areas around a foundation.

Balusters: Small vertical supports for the railing of stairs.

Balustrade: A series of balusters supporting the railing of stairs or a balcony.

Bannister: A handrail with supporting posts on a stairway.

Barge board: The finished board that covers the projecting portion of a gable roof.

Batt: A type of insulation designed for installation between framing members.

Batten: A strip of wood that covers the joint between two pieces of siding.

Beam: A horizontal member supported on each end by columns or posts. A beam carries the weight of a roof or floor across a given space, a door, window, or other similar opening.

Bearing Plate: A metal plate that provides support for a structural member.

Bearing Wall: A wall designed to support a vertical load. A bearing wall will contain properly sized headers over door or window openings.

Bench Mark: A mark on some permanent object fixed to the ground used as a standard measuring point.

Birdsmouth: A notch cut on the underside of a rafter's tail so the low end of a rafter can sit flat on a wall.

Buttress: A supporting structure built against a wall.

Cistern: A container for storing water, such as that collected from a rainwater harvesting system.

Clerestory: A wall with windows that rises above an abutting roofed section of a building or room.

Concrete Anchor: A lag screw or bolt assembly designed to wedge against a pre-drilled hole in the concrete to attach wood or other material to the concrete slab or structure.

Cornice: Exterior trim of a structure where the roof and walls meet.

Crow's foot: A carpentry term used to describe a style of mark on a piece of wood or other material, defined by two or more lines extending out and originating from one point (the mark).

Dead Load: The weight of permanent and stationary construction included in a building (see the Live Load carpentry term).

Engineered Lumber: Special beams, joists, and rafters created by laminating wood, used for long spans between vertical supports.

Fascia: A finished wood member used for the outer face of a cornice nailed to the ends of the rafter tails.

Footing: An enlargement at the lower end of a wall, pier, or column to distribute the load into the ground.

Framing: The structural elements of a house or building - studs, beams, headers, rafters, purlins, and trusses.

Green Building: The design and construction of buildings that minimize environmental impact while helping to keep occupants healthy.

Hammer Drill: A tool that uses a short, rapid hammering action to drill through relatively brittle material (like concrete), providing quicker drilling with less effort.

Header: A type of beam used above a door or window.

Hip Rafter: The diagonal rafter that extends from the plate to the ridge to form the hip of a hip roof.

Jack Rafter: A short rafter usually used on hip roofs.

Joist: One of a series of parallel framing members used to support floors and ceilings.

Ledger: A strip attached to vertical framing or foundation used to support joists or rafters.

Live Load: The weight of all moving and variable loads on a building that is not part of the weight of the structural elements. (see the Dead Load carpentry term).

Long-Point: The pointed part of a beveled cut (See the Short-Point carpentry term).

Nave: The central part of a church from the main entrance to the chancel.

Paddle Bit: A flat-shaped drill bit with a pointed center, designed to drill larger than 1/4" diameter holes in wood or other material.

Pitch: Inclination or slope, as of roofs or stairs. The inches of rise for every 12 inches of run. A roof with a 5-12 pitch roof, for example, rises 5 inches for every 12 inches of run.

Plumb: Perpendicular or vertical - at right angles to the horizon or the floor.

Purlin: A structural member used to support a group of rafters approximately at the midway point of the span of the rafters.

Rafter: A structural member that makes up the shape and structure of a roof. The types include hip, jack, valley, and cripple.

Renewable Energy: Energy produced using solar, wind, hydropower, or biomass energy sources.

Short-Point: Refers to the part of a beveled cut that is not the pointed part (see long-point).

Stringer: The structural part of stairs that support the risers and treads.

Stud: A structural member typically used to frame walls.

Transept: Either of the two lateral arms of a church built in the shape of a cross.

Transom: A small, often hinged, window above another window or door.

Tread: The step or horizontal member of a stair.

Under Pinning: A foundation replacement or reinforcement for temporarily braced supports.

Valley Jack: A rafter that runs from a ridge board to a valley rafter.

Valley Rafter: A rafter that forms the intersection between two sloping roofs.

The definitions of these carpentry terms came from several books and online sources, including Webster's Dictionary, Modern Carpentry, Architectural Drafting and Design, and Architectural Drawing.

 See Also (on

Framing Carpentry - Learn about the elements of framing carpentry.

Carpentry Math - Learn the mathematical formulas used in carpentry.

Carpentry Tools - Learn about the different types of tools used in carpentry.

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